Common Terms in the NICU
Words You Might Hear in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Your Baby's Caregivers
Cardiologist - A doctor who specializes in taking care of heart problems.
Neonatologist - A pediatrician who specializing in caring for sick newborns.
Neonatal Nurse - A registered nurse who specializes in the care of sick babies in the NICU.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner - A nurse who has received a Masters degree in Nursing and has specialized
training in the care of the neonate. He/she assists the neonatologist
with procedures, patient teaching, daily patient rounds and other tasks.
Radiology Technician - A healthcare team member who takes X-rays of your baby. This may be
done in the NICU or the radiology department.
Respiratory Therapist - A registered therapist who specializes in evaluating your baby's
respiratory status and needs.
How We Learn About Your Baby
Apgar Score - A measurement on a scale of 0-10 of your baby's condition at one
and five minutes after birth.
Due Date (EDC) - The estimated time your baby was due to be born at full term or 40 weeks
Full Term Baby - 37 to 42 weeks gestation
Grams vs. Pounds - Units of weight, 28 grams = 1 ounce, 454 grams = 1 pound.
Large/Small for dates - A baby whose birth weight is more or less than the third percentile
for that particular gestational age.
Premature Baby - A baby born before 37 weeks gestation regardless of weight.
Vital Signs - Your baby's heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and body
Where Your Baby Will Be Staying
Incubator (isolette) - A transport, box-like enclosure in which sick or preterm babies are
placed. Allows control of the temperature around the baby and provides
limited protection of the baby from infectious agents.
Open Crib - A regular hospital crib that your baby will be placed in when he/she
is ready to maintain his/her temperature on his/her own. When your baby
moves to an open crib, he/she is getting close to going home.
Pediatric Crib - A specialized crib with high side rails. Babies who suffer from
reflux need the head of their beds to be elevated or they need to be placed on a
reflux wedge. With a pediatric crib, nurses are able to raise the head of the bed higher
than that of a regular open crib. The pediatric crib is also big enough
to place a reflux wedge in it.
Radiant Warmer - A bed that helps keep your baby at the right temperature. It may also
be covered with plastic wrap for premature babies to keep more heat in
the infant's environment.
Reflux Wedge - A special type of mattress that elevates the baby's head of the
bed at a much higher level than an open crib. These are used for babies
with severe reflux.
Conditions You May Hear Us Discuss
Apnea - An absence or prolonged pause in breathing (20 seconds or longer) typical
in premature infants.
Bradycardia (brady) - A significant slowing of the heart rate below the baby's normal
rate. Generally, for babies, a bradycardia is a heart rate less than 100
beats per minute.
BPD (Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia) - A chronic lung disease primarily affecting premature infants who have
been mechanically ventilated; involves air sac damage, scarring of the
lung tissue, and areas of atelectasis.
Desaturations (Desats) - Short periods of time when the oxygen level in your body's system
drops below an accepted level. This causes lack of oxygen to the tissues.
Jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia) - The buildup of bilirubin in the fatty tissues that result in a yellow
Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS) - This happens when a baby inhales a mixture of meconium and amniotic
fluid either in the uterus or shortly after delivery. Meconium may block
the airway, causing difficulty breathing and poor gas exchange. This causes
inflammation, which may result in pneumonia.
PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus) - A condition where the ductus arteriosus, a blood vessel that allows
blood to bypass the baby's lungs before birth, fails to close after birth.
Reflux - (Gastroespophageal Reflux) - The backward flow of stomach contents into the esophagus (food pipe);
in babies may trigger apnea and/or bradycardia.
Residuals - Food remaining in the stomach from the previous feeding at the time
of the next feeding. Large residuals indicate feeding intolerance.
RDS (Respiratory Distress Syndrome) - A condition that affects the lungs of preterm newborns, making it difficult
for them to breath. Caused by a lack of surfactant. Sometimes called hyaline
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) - A disease affecting the retina of a preterm baby's eye. Involves
rapid, irregular growth of blood vessels that can lead to bleeding and
scarring of the retina. Can cause retinal detachment and blindness if
severe. Premature babies will have scheduled exams of their eyes completed
before they are discharged, and if the ROP is severe enough, laser surgery
may need to be completed by a qualified Opthamologist. Our NICU is proud
to have a Ret-cam, which is a retinal camera that takes pictures of the
retina and detects any signs of ROP.
Sepsis - The presence of harmful microorganisms in the blood and their effects
on the body; a general infection.
Surfactant - soap like substance (made up mainly of fat) produced by lung cells.
Coats inner surfaces of airways and air sacs in the lungs to keep those
passages open between breaths. Absent or lacking in the babies born preterm
(production begins at about 24 weeks gestation but is not well developed
until 36 weeks).
TTN (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) - A respiratory condition caused by delay in the body's absorption
after birth of the fluid that fills the fetal lungs.
Tests and Treatments Your Baby May Need
Antibiotics - A drug that kills bacteria or reduces their growth. Used to treat infections.
Barium Swallow - A set of X-rays taken to examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestines.
During the X-ray procedure, the baby is required to swallow a liquid form
of barium that is detectable by X-ray imaging. This is sometimes used
to determine if a baby is having reflux problems.
Blood Gases - A laboratory test preformed on blood taken from an artery, capillary,
or vein to determine levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide and acid.
CT Scan - A method of body imaging in which a thin X-ray beam rotates around the baby.
Echocardiogram (echo) - An ultrasound of the heart and heart functions.
Head Ultrasound - A diagnostic imaging technique that makes images of the brain and is
generally done at the bedside.
Hyperal/TPN - The provision of essential nutrients (proteins, fats, sugar, vitamins,
and minerals) and water through an intravenous line to replace or supplement
a baby's intake by mouth.
Lipids - A group of substances that include fat, which are organic compounds
made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
Oxygen - A molecule contained in air. Necessary for proper functioning of body
cells. Absorbed into the blood from air breathed into the lungs (called
Phototherapy Lights - Light treatment for hyperbilirubinemia. Light waves breakdown indirect
bilirubin so that the baby's system can eliminate it in urine.
Surfactant Replacement Therapy - A treatment in which a preterm infant with expected or confirmed respiratory
distress syndrome is given a natural or artificial substance (called an
exogenous surfactant) through a tube placed in the windpipe to replace
the natural surfactant the baby lacks because of early birth.
X-ray - Radiant energy of short wavelength that penetrates substances opaque
to light differently according to wavelength
Breathing Tube (ET or Endotracheal Tube) - A tube that passes through the baby's mouth and into the trachea
(windpipe) to allow oxygen to be delivered to the lungs. Insertion of
the tube is called "intubation", removal, "extubation."
Cardiac Monitor - An electron device attached to babies in the NICU to monitor heart rate
and rate of breathing; sounds alarm if either falls below or exceeds a
Chest Tube - A tube inserted into your baby's chest cavity to drain excess fluid or air.
Conventional/Mechanical Ventilation (vent) - A mechanical breathing machine providing safe and effective ventilations
to any baby requiring assistance. Mechanical ventilation in the neonate
is typically accomplished by the use of a pressure-limited ventilator.
High flow cannula - A respiratory device that warms and humidifies high flow rates of air/oxygen
blends for delivery to a patient via nasal cannula.
strong>High Frequency Oscillator (HFO) - A mechanical breathing machine
that provides ventilatory support but in a different way than a conventional
ventilator or vent. The HFO inflates the baby's lungs and holds them
open constantly, while at the same time providing small puffs of air.
Intravenous Live (IV) - A thin tube inserted into a vein by means of a needle (the needle is
removed after the catheter is in the vein). It supplies medication, fluids
or nutrients directly into the blood stream. May be placed in the hands,
arms, feet, legs, or scalp.
IV Pump - A large pump with chambers available to deliver continuous IV therapy
Nasal Cannula - A small tube placed in your baby's nose to give extra oxygen to
Nasal CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) - Air or an air/oxygen mixture mechanically pushed into a baby's lungs
to keep the air sacs open after each breath, reducing the effort the baby
must make to breathe; usually delivered through short tubes placed in
Nasojejunal Tube (NJ Tube) - A soft. Flexible tube inserted into the nose, through the stomach, and
then into the jejunum (a part of the small intestines). The tube carries
formula and medicines into the jejunum where it can be quickly absorbed
into the body. This is usually used for babies who have severe reflux.
Orogastric Tube (OG Tube) - A feeding tube that is placed into your baby's mouth and is advanced
into his/her stomach. This tube may be used to feed or it may be used
to remove air from the stomach. If placed through the nose, it is called
a Nasogastric Tube (NG Tube).
Oxygen Hood - A clear plastic box or hood placed over a baby's head to hold supplemental
oxygen. Also called an "Oxy-hood."
PICC Line (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) - A special intravenous catheter that is inserted into a peripheral (limbs)
vein and threaded towards the heart. It is used for long term fluid nutrition.
Pulse Oximeter - A device that wraps around the hand or foot of a baby and uses a light
sensor to determine the amount of oxygen bound to the hemoglobin molecules
in the blood. A general indicator of a baby's oxygenation.
Scale - A piece of equipment used to weigh babies. It may be free standing or
incorporated into the baby's bed.
Suction Catheter - A tiny tube used to remove mucus from your baby's nose, mouth, and
Syringe Pump - A small, single pump used to deliver medications or feedings.
Transport Isolette - A mobile isolette specially equipped with oxygen. It is used in the
transport of babies from one location to another (i.e. transports from
one unit to another or from one hospital to another).
Umbilical Catheter - A tiny catheter inserted into an artery and/or vein in your baby's
umbilical cord so that small amounts of blood can be drawn for tests without
using a needle. The catheter in the artery also measures blood pressure.
The catheter in the vein may be used to give fluids and medicines.